Her voice makes you stand up and notice - as well as run for the train

March 08, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

THE VOICE, dramatic and mellifluous and with precise diction, echoes through the loudspeakers at Penn Station on this frozen weekday morning.

"Good MORRR-ning, may I have you ah-TEN-shun PUH-leeze? Arrrr-iii-viing next at gate LET-ter DEEE, on track NUM-burrr 4, will be AM-trak south-bound MET-ro-line-er train NUM-ber ONE-oh-one. This train is en ROUTE to WASH-ing-tonnn Deee Ceee and will be make-ing STAY-shun stops at New CARRR-olll-ton and WASH-ing-ton Uuuuu-nnnion STAY-shun."

As they hear this, many of the veteran commuters hurrying down the main concourse smile.

The passengers who haven't heard the voice before, even the ones sitting and juggling their bagels and lap-scalding coffees, look up in wonder.

My God, was that a train announcement or someone reading for a part in "The Ten Commandments"?

"As you are LEEE-ving the WAYYY-ting room, please check and MAKE sure you have ALL of your PERRR-son-al be-LONG-ings. ONLY TRAV-e-ling guests are per-MIT-ted on the PLAT-form. FOR yourrrr SAFE-tee, please stand be-HIIND the YELL-oh PLAT-form SAFE-tee strip un-TIL the train comes to a com-PLETE stop."

The voice belongs to Sharon Greene, the friendly woman with cascading hair who can be found behind the microphone at the information counter five days a week, starting at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m.

Greene, a 24-year employee of Amtrak, is in her second stint as the voice of Penn Station. Officially her title is usher/gate person. But in the year that she's been back behind the mike, she's drawn lots of attention for her voice - a voice so distinctive that passengers will actually stand and gawk at her as she reads her announcements.

"Yes, I get lots of comments about my voice," she said the other day. "Yesterday someone ... said: `You're the Marv Albert of train information.' People have said: `You remind me of Howard Cosell.' Or: `You should be doing [boxing] ring announcements or announcing at the racetrack.' "

An average of 3,000 passengers pass through Penn Station on most workdays, and it's safe to say most of them hear Sharon Greene's soaring voice.

She's heard a few negative comments - "I'm too dramatic, or they think I'm play-acting." But mostly her theatrical announcing style draws raves from the people who listen to it most.

"That voice ... it's a beautiful fog horn," says Baltimore attorney David Zeiger, who frequently commutes to Washington. "It's almost biblical. I can be angry, thinking about a trial I have ... and then I hear that voice, and it's a new day."

"PUH-leeze watch yourrr step when BOARD-ing and keep ALL CHIL-dren well in hand. THANK yewww for CHOOSE-ing AM-trak, where our PROM-ise is `Sat-is-FAC-shun Guar-an-TEED.' "

Listening to her work the busy 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. bloc, I close my eyes and imagine Cicely Tyson on a stage, darkened save for a single spotlight, reading from the Winter 2001 Amtrak schedule.

Yet the comparison to Cicely Tyson is not quite apt.

Would people interrupt Cicely Tyson's performance with shouts of "Do I have time for a coffee before the 8:39 Metroliner?" or "How do you get to the Best Western from here?"

I don't think so.

Would Cicely Tyson ever have to tell some dopey parent to get her kid down from the windowsill, where he's waving bye-bye to a choo-choo?

Would she ever have to explain to a frantic passenger - who has to be on the next train to New York or his career will go up like the Hindenburg - how to use the automatic ticket dispenser?

No. Cicely Tyson's job is a piece of cake compared to Sharon Greene's.

As I listen on, it also occurs to me that I once had a teacher with a voice like Sharon Greene's.

Her name was Mrs. Jackson. She taught fifth grade and exuded all the warmth of someone with a second career signing eviction notices.

But Mrs. Jackson's voice was vibrant, her enunciation incredible. You never, ever cocked an ear in her direction and said: "What did she say? Did she say no homework?"

"I've always enunciated," says Greene, who does not want to give her age, but who has two sons, ages 27 and 12. "It's important for people to understand me. When I was a child, my mother stressed the importance of communicating. She's a very articulate person.

"The other reason I [enunciate] is that we have a lot of foreigners come through here. I want to make sure they know what I'm saying."

"The MARC lo-cal to WASH-ing-ton BOARD-ing NOW at Gate Ceeee on Track NUM-ber FI-IVE!"

Well, whatever she's saying, it's sure fun to hear her say it.

An English professor marched up to her one day and said he wanted to record her for his class. A local TV station is preparing a piece on her. Two morning jocks from a local radio station had her read train announcements on their show.

In fact, her voice has attracted so much attention that she's actually considering a second career.

"I want to do voice-overs," she says softly. "For cartoon characters, commercials, whatever I can get. I'm getting ready to go into a studio and do a [demo] tape."

Again, I close my eyes.

This time I picture Ron Popeil pushing that stupid salad shooter of his, or the Veg-o-matic, at 2 in the morning.

Then I picture Sharon Greene's voice flacking for those items.

Oh, yes. Much better.

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